LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR Screened in Louisville for the Met's HD Encore Series Tonight, 7/18
Contracted marriage, the lady kills her husband, goes "mad" and dies, and then her real lover kills himself at her graveside. That's the formula for Lucia that showcases the great sopranos and tenors of the day in Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti's most popular opera, set to screen as part of the Metropolitan Opera's HD summer encores series.
This popular opera airs tonight, July 18th at 6:30 p.m. at Tinseltown and Stonybrook. The great Anna Netrebko's lustrous voice and dramatic acting abilities shine as Lucia.
Below, local opera enthusiasts Christos Dimitriadas and Walter Karr offer their insights and feelings about Lucia.
Christos writes: "It is no secret that love carries a significant power over all living and breathing creatures on the planet. It is also not not a secret that love has particular powers over human beings, immense powers who decide the fate of people, countries and even the outcome of wars. Powers that can literally drive you mad. Does the Helen of Troy ring a bell for anyone? How about Napoleon’s Josephine? The most powerful man on the planet, self proclaimed Emperor, would cross immense distances in the midst of war just to spend a night with his beloved lady (wow, Josephine really knew how to work her stuff so to speak). And of course, let’s not forget in our recent American History one of the most important and virile statesman in the Presidency of our Nation, who sacrificed his notable career for the throws of passion...ok, ok maybe that was lust not love but you get the point. Once you get hit by the arrows of the cute, soft, winged, red cheeked, little feller you are in BIG trouble. Gaetano Donizetti immortalized such madness in his beloved opera "Lucia Di Lammermoor" in such a dramatic way which made the famous Romeo and Juliet look more like a soft paperback novel found in the racks of Wal-Mart, laden with lines such as “his piercing look reverberated through my entire being” or “I felt a waterfall of electricity rushing through my already fragile existence.
"'Lucia di Lammermoor' is a dramma tragico (tragic opera) in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Salvatore Cammarano wrote the Italian language libretto loosely based upon Sir Walter Scott's historical novel "The Bride of Lammermoor". Many serious critics have been very vocal and annoyed due to this discrepancy, since in their opinion historical validity is as important to opera as is the dissertation of a PhD candidate at Oxford University. I tend to not pay attention to such drudgery and I would recommend you do the same. After all, opera is musical theater the last time I checked and not the Annals of World History or the cliff notes on “The History of our World”. We will just let serious critics continue their stiff positions because after all, it takes all kinds to make this world go ‘round' (or go to pot, either one fits the bill). Donizetti wrote "Lucia di Lammermoor" in 1835, a time when several factors led to the height of his reputation as a composer of opera. Gioachino Rossini had recently retired and Vincenzo Bellini had died shortly before the premier of "Lucia" leaving Donizetti as "the sole reigning genius of Italian opera". Not only were conditions ripe for Donizetti's success as a composer, but there was also a European interest in the history and culture of Scotland. The story concerns the emotionally fragile Lucy Ashton (Lucia) who is caught in a feud between her own family and that of the Ravenswoods. The setting is the Lammermuir Hills of Scotland (Lammermoor) in the 17th century.
"As a diehard Donizetti fan I cannot imagine any of you opera lovers missing this performance. Anna Netrebko sings the title role of Donizetti’s bel canto tragedy in her Met role debut, with Piotr Beczala as her lover, Edgardo. Mariusz Kwiecien is her tyrannical brother. Mary Zimmerman’s hit production, first seen in 2007, is staged as a Victorian ghost story. Beczala and Kwiecien are absolutely brilliant (B-R-I-L-L-I-A-N-T) and as expected Netrebko delivers her bel canto abilities full force, although I will have to admit her “mad” scene was regarded by many more like a drugged scene. She does not reach the acting abilities of Joan Sutherland who literally used to hurl herself down the stairs, putting her life in danger, just to thrill the millions and millions of demanding fans around the world (we really have become spoiled to the core...if there are no elephants, lions and mad cheetahs parading on stage during a performance of Aida or if Tosca doesn’t plunge head first off the castle and into the rushing waters, we all go home as if our house is been put through foreclosure). In any event, whether you regard Donizetti as a first class composer or not, this is a masterpiece that has lasted through the ages and the MET does a remarkable job providing you with the finest in the world to entertain your otherwise tortured by a daily routine senses. Who knows, you may come to the theater to see the opera and end up leaving “madly” in love yourself...just be careful what you wish for...your cohorts may not be able to bear you bursting a mad scene bel canto vocal escapade in the theater...leave that to the professionals (not the love making of course, the singing)."
Fellow Culture Vulture Walter Karr also has a passion for Lucia. Read his thoughts on this famous opera.
"Horrifying screams were heard coming from the bedroom of the couple. When the door was forced open there stood the bride covered in blood, totally insane with a knife in her hand grinning insanely. Her only words were: "Here, take up your bonny bridegroom." A few weeks later she died. Pass the marshmallows.
This supposed true story of a daughter of a Scottish nobleman who murders her husband on the night of their wedding is stuff nightmares are made of. Sir Walter Scott made a novel of it and Donizetti in turn made an opera of it.
And within this bel canto opera Donizetti included a 'mad scene.' Mad scenes were not new to operas in those days. Even Handel incorporated a mad scene in one of his operas many years prior to "Lucia". What was new was Donizetti's original intention of using an armonica in a tragic mad scene. It gives an eerie atmosphere to the proceedings when it is played behind the mad ravings of Lucia. Interestingly, a mechanical version of the 'glass harp' was invented by none other than Ben Franklin...yes, THAT Ben Franklin.
Beverly Sills performs with an armonia, or variation of the glass harmonica, on her recording of the opera conducted by Julius Rudel. The recording is still available and worth a listen. The Metropolitan Opera has brought it back for the recent productions of this opera to stunning effect, BUT this was just the intention and original idea of Donizetti. He eventually arranged the passages for flute instead for the premiere.
The mad scene over the years unfortunately became a vehicle for sopranos to show off their vocal fireworks. Pity the tenor who must go on for the final act after the soprano has goggled up all the scenery, chorus, orchestra and applause...not to mention her one or two performed encores before he steps on the stage again. One critic reported the lights could be turned out and nothing would be missed afterwards.
It made a star of the young soprano when she made her debut on the Metropolitan Opera stage in New York January 3rd, 1931. During her career she sang 93 performances of "Lucia" at the Met. Her name was Lily Pons. In the early 1950's a soprano named Maria Callas brought back the drama and turned the mad scene back into the tragedy it was meant to be. She sang it as written without fancy vocal embellishments. It worked. Joan Sutherland successfully followed on her heels.
Another outstanding feature of this opera is the sextet. Recorded with Caruso in 1908, the public had to pay $7.00 a record to hear it at home. It became famously know as the 'Seven Dollar Sextet.' It is almost always encored at performances and it's tune is easily recognizable even to those who don't know opera.
Rossini and Bellini had departed the scene and Donizetti was now king of bel canto. Riding on the success of his opera buffo "L'Elisir d'Amore" Donizetti created this drama based upon the Scott novel. Ironically, Donizetti himself would succumb to the same fate as his broken hearted fictional heroine, Lucia. In 1848, having contracted syphilis, just a few years after the death of his wife and three daughters, he died...totally insane."